ROME, July 30 – Michael Phelps regained his golden touch here on Wednesday with a record-setting triumph in the men's 200m butterfly at the swimming World Championships.
The 14-time Olympic gold medallist was stunned in the 200m free on Tuesday, when Germany’s Paul Biedermann took both his world title and world record.
But Phelps responded convincingly in the fly, leading from start to finish and winning in 1min 51.51sec.
That improved on the world record of 1:52.03 that he set in winning Olympic gold in Beijing, part of his record eight-gold Olympic haul.
"I’m happy," Phelps said. "It was something that I really wanted to do last year, to break the 1min 52sec and coming into the night I just said I’m going to go for it and whatever happens, happens."
For Phelps it was a welcome ride on the world record wave that has swept through the 2009 championships, fueled by the high-tech bodysuits that are to be banned next year.
Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, South African Cameron Van Der Burgh and China’s Zhang Lin also claimed world titles in world record times on Wednesday.
The women’s 50m backstroke semi-finals saw the world record fall twice in the blink of an eye, Daniela Samulski lowering her own world record with a time of 27.39 in the first semi-final only to be pipped by Anastasia Zueva’s 27.38 in the second semi.
Pellegrini thrilled her legion of fans with a triumph in the 200m freestyle in a time of 1:52.98, lowering the world record for the second time in two days. She had set the standard of 1:53.67 in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Van Der Burgh also notched his second world record in as many days with his triumph in the 50m breaststroke in 26.67. He had set the previous record of 26.74 in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Zhang shattered the world record in winning the men’s 800m freestyle in 7:32.12 – slicing 6.53sec off the previous world record of 7:38.65 set by Australian distance great Grant Hackett in Montreal on July 27 – the first time the race was swum at the World Championships.
Defending world champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia was second ahead of Canadian Ryan Cochrane.
Wednesday’s seven world records – including Mary Descenza’s in the women’s 200m butterfly heats – took the total to 22 at the halfway stage of the eight-day competition.
That’s well past the 15 set at the 2007 World Championships and closing in on the 25 set at the Beijing Olympics.
But this time Phelps, still swimming in the Speedo LZR suit that has been overtaken by the polyurethane marvels unveiled this year, hadn’t been at the forefront.
The 24-year-old American had seemed non-plussed by his first defeat in world and Olympic competition since 2005, but he knew just what to do after the victory, raising both arms in celebration as he stood on the deck to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd.
"I do so many races that I can’t get caught up in one event," Phelps said. "Last night, yeah, I was disappointed I didn’t win. But I knew I had to put that behind me to get ready for tonight."
Suits or no, Phelps was never threatened as Poland’s Pawel Korzeniowski and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda dueled for silver behind him.
"I tried to push on in the first 150 and get into as much open water as I could and then tried to just come up and last long," Phelps said.
Matsuda was lying second to Phelps until the final lap, when he was overtaken by Korzeniowski, who snatched the silver in 1:53.23 as Matsuda settled for bronze in 1:53.32.